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Balance Pai Sho

Page history last edited by Darren 13 years, 11 months ago

Rules of Balance Pai Sho


This page is currently under construction. I'd be happy if someone could help me ^^


The philosophy of this variant is to have only a small set of rules, but to make the game complex and challenging. It shares some similarities to chess, mills and checkers, even though it differs in some fundamental points; in this variant you and your opponent share the same set of tiles which means that you have to work together to a certain extent, otherwise the game leads nowhere. The basic rules are taken from this page: http://paisho.blog.de/


The game's goal is to restore complete harmony or balance on the board. To do so, flower tiles are placed and moved around on the board to form single balances. A balances can be formed when two matching flower tiles are in the same area; there are 16 different areas, or gardens as they are called, on the board:


In each of these gardens one or more of the following balances can be formed:


a) Lotus with Rose,                              b) Orchid with Lily


Usually, a balance is only formed by exactly two flower tiles, however, there are certain exceptions:

1a) When a flower tile (here the Orchid) is placed on an intersecting square which belongs to two gardens, it can form one balance in each of these gardens. b) Similarly, if a tile is placed on an intersection which belongs to more then one garden, it can form one balance in each of the gardens it belongs to.

2) When a flower tile is placed on the Wheel of Life Tile, its ability to form balances are doubled. This means that it can usually balance two matching tiles in one garden, however, if a flower tile doubled by the Wheel Tile is placed on an intersecting square which belongs to more than one garden, it can form two balances in each of these gardens.


Before the game starts the complete set of tiles is placed in a bag. The set usually consists of eleven tiles:

1 Rose Tile

2 Lotus Tiles

3 Orchid Tiles

4 Lily Tiles

and 1 Wheel of Life Tile

In turns, each player now draws one tile from the bag until none remain.


First stage of the game: the player who owns the most tiles begins. In the first stage of the game, which is called "The Blossoming", each player in turns places one tile on the board. He can either place them on a free square or on a free intersection. Note that tiles which are placed on intersections cannot be moved later in the game! Furthermore: the Wheel of Life Tile cannot be placed on intersections!


Tips and Tricks: within this stage an inexperienced player could lose before even getting to the next stage, if almost every balance is already formed and his opponent manages to form the final one. So be careful, try to deduce what tiles your opponent has left and keep some tiles unbalanced!


Second stage of the game: now that every tile is placed on the board the players start moving tiles around to form balances. Again, tiles on intersections cannot be moved. Tiles on squares can only move horizontally or vertically, however you cannot move over any tiles which stand in the way. This means that tiles can also be blocked if they are surrounded. Furthermore, tiles which already form a balance cannot be moved, even if they would still form a balance after the move. However, if in one garden two similar tiles and one matching tile are placed, one of the similar tiles can be moved because this would not harm the balance.

For example:

In this scenario neither of the Lily tiles or the Orchid tiles could be moved because they exactly match each other. Yet one of the Lotus tiles in the top garden could be moved because there would still remain one Lotus tile to balance the Rose tile. However, once you move one of the Lotus tiles outside this garden, the remaining tiles are fixed and cannot be moved, unless a second Lotus tile is moved back in the top garden.




Comments (30)

Red Kutai said

at 11:06 am on Aug 19, 2010

I do rather like the ideas this system has, but I have some concerns, as well.

Firstly, why is it necessary that pieces can be played both on spaces and on intersections; it doesn't seem particularly intuitive to allow both, and I don't see any significant benefit toward gameplay for it being that way. I would maintain that tiles be played on intersections (it makes for better use of the multiple gardens rule), unless you have significant inclinations otherwise.

Also (and until I play the game I won't be sure whether this is an issue or not) but the strict balance requirements and limited number of pieces seem like they would lead to an uneventful game, don't they? The Rose Tile will always be either in two gardens, or on the Wheel of Life; the same goes for at least one Lily. It seems that the number of final game positions whill be fairly small, which could grow redundant over time. Again, I won't be sure about this until I try it, but it's a concern to watch for.

And, one small point: if the player with fewer tiles places one first, the player with more tiles will wind up playing two tiles in a row, at the end of The Blossoming. If this was intentional, that's fine, but it seems like something of a rules quirk...

Red Kutai said

at 11:20 am on Aug 19, 2010

I suppose I could submit a suggestion, as well: I would like to see the tiles form balances with unlike tiles, rather than like tiles. That is to say, I'd like upward-facing flowers (the Rose and Lotus) to form balances with downward-facing flowers (Orchid and Lily). You would need to rebalance the tile numbers, having the total number of upward-facing tiles and the total number of downward facing tiles equal 5 (4 and 1, and 2 and 3, or vice versa). I think it would increase the variance in gameplay, allowing for more possible winning combinations. Anyhow, I thought I would posit it as a possibility...

Eun_Mi_89 said

at 11:20 am on Aug 20, 2010

Yes, this way it looks indeed more balanced! I thought maybe we should also introduce a rule similar to "following suit" in card games like Bridge: whenever a player is able to form a balance (either by placing a tile during Blossoming or moving in the 2nd stage) he is obliged to do so. I guess this would mean that you could control your opponent a little bit more. Otherwise it is really hard to win in the final stage...

Eun_Mi_89 said

at 6:46 am on Aug 20, 2010

Thank you Kutai, you're right about the starting player! That was a mistake, sorry. About the intersections: I guess there is two good reasons for this: first, in almost every scene of the show you can see at least one piece on an intersection while the others are on squares, and as far as I know only the pieces on squares are moved; so I guess to make the game closer to the one played in the show it is necessary.
But what is more important, it is a highly strategic part of the game! If you would only play on the intersections it would be hard to mark those pieces which are fixed and cannot be moved later. And in the second stage it is important that some pieces are fixed, because what you try to do in the second stage is to limit the movements your opponent can do... I guess I really wouldn't change that, also because moving the pieces on intersection makes the game probably to unstable. Anyway, I will try it and see how it works out!
And about the variance: be sure there is plenty, I have played a couple of games, they are never alike. Even though I have to say that it is most of the time the lilies which are moved last, but I guess no one would say that chess is boring because the last piece taken is the king.

Darren said

at 7:44 am on Aug 20, 2010

no i think if you only play on the intersections than you would end up moving tiles on the center lines to positions where they cover more than two gardens and that would make the game really confusing! you really need to try stff before suggesting it.
also we need a rule that you can't just undo what your opponent just did.

Harlan Nowick said

at 1:18 pm on Aug 20, 2010

i like the idea behind gardens but the biggest problem i see with this game is that there just aren't enough tiles. in two of the episodes( the desert, and the blue spirit) there are more than eleven tiles on the game board plus more that didn't appear to be used. while in the other episodes i can never manage to make out any more than 9 tiles. on the board at any time.
and is there a limit to how far a tile can move or can they move until something blocks them. (another piece or edge of board)

Eun_Mi_89 said

at 4:28 am on Aug 22, 2010

Hm, that is a quite interesting observation. If we still try to compose a game which includes all the data the show provides us with, this seems to lead us to one conclusion: tiles can be removed during the course of the game. Am I right?

Harlan Nowick said

at 8:43 pm on Aug 22, 2010

ya. i think so. if you couldn't remove tiles then it would make the game ridiculously complex as you get around 60 pieces or more on the board.

Harlan Nowick said

at 4:16 pm on Aug 20, 2010

it seems like no win solutions will happen often like the one shown in the last image?

Red Kutai said

at 1:28 am on Aug 22, 2010

Every screenshot I've seen of the game shows tiles either on intersections /or/ on squares; never both. I'll try to find some video clips for better evidence, though. This implies that, as I've stated before, they may not be playing the same game in each scene. I've posited before that a Pai Sho set is, like a deck of cards, simply the universal equipment used to play a number of common games. This explanation solves all the small inconsistencies (including the space/intersection issue, board orientation discrepancies, and even the ability to move/capture pieces at all) without forcing one game to fit to a number of contradictory rules. [[I did finally find one screenshot that could potentially have both, but the angle of the shot is unusual, so it's hard to be sure; either way, I'd sooner chock it up to an artistic error than base a whole rule around it.]]

One thing to realise is that Chess has nearly 6 times as many pieces on the board as this game, so you should account for that in your comparisons. Chess end-games are interesting because, despite the fact that the King is always the last piece taken, it could be (almost) any number or combination of the 32 opposing pieces doing the taking. This game, on the other hand, would always end with Lilies balancing with Orchids, and in essentially the same patterns. The exact locations on the board may change, but the game position is essentially the same. In short, this seems like a more-complex Tic-Tac-Toe; once a player becomes familiar with the ending patterns, and knows how to achieve them, actually playing the game loses all of its fun...

Red Kutai said

at 1:30 am on Aug 22, 2010

The biggest issue with playing pieces on both spaces and intersections is that it makes the board difficult to read, and it is a more-or-less unnecessary complication. There are only a handful of things that or more difficult to do with all tiles on intersections (or all on spaces, for that matter; I chose intersections to encourage use of the multiple-garden rule, because I thought that option would be better for variance); having some tiles "fixed" is one of those issues. Personally, I don't see a need for fixed tiles (tiles become fixed when they move into a balance, so you should be able to create your own fixed tiles fairly easily), so this doesn't bother me too much. Having some tiles start immobile while the goal of the game is to move tiles just seems to add unnecessary complexity.

Yes, I could agree with a rule that requires you to move into balance if possible, though I would avoid including such a rule in "The Blossoming" (since you would be forced to place all tiles into balance, thus ending the game); it would be much like Draughts, allowing you to force your opponent to make moves he'd prefer not to. As for the problem of your opponent undoing your moves, many similar games (Chess and Go, for instance) have rules preventing identical game states from occuring repeatedly; looking up the exact rules for one of those games could give you some hints as to how to word it...

Eun_Mi_89 said

at 4:23 am on Aug 22, 2010

Guys, I appreciate your efforts, but may I suggest that you play a game before you keep discussing particularities? The game does not have similar "ending patterns"; quite the contrary, so far I think the problem is that the endgame is too complex and means need to be invented to make it more controllable. Of course the game ends with matching tiles balancing each other but there seems to be an infinite number of arrangements to do so.
I see your problem with the necessity of fixed tiles, I guess a variant of Balance Pai Sho could exclude them, yet I still think they are pretty handy. And Kutai, including a "finish the balance" obligation does not mean at all that the Blossoming necessarily ends up in complete balance, because as soon as you don't have the required tile to complete a balance you can play what ever tile you like. I think this gives you some nice possibilities to influence the game for your benefit.
The scene I was referring to is this:
and I don't know about this one, it is not really explicit:
Of course you could argue that this is an animation flaw, but what is then an accurate depiction of the game and what isn't?!
Finally, I agree that there is probably more than one game played on the Pai Sho board, like chess, checkers and other games are played on the same board. That is also why I believe that the "White Lotus Pattern" is some kind of two player solitaire.

Harlan Nowick said

at 12:08 am on Aug 23, 2010

there are definitely not an infinite number of win solutions, in fact there are only really 41 different spaces that a tile can occupy. of course most of those spaces can have more than one tile in them resulting in the apparently large number of win solutions. i think this is a good proof of concept game and the use of gardens is genius. gardens should become more involved in the other versions of pai sho, but when it comes down to it, the game, as it is now, is complex tic-tac-toe

Osuji said

at 12:09 am on Aug 23, 2010

In response to your question " what is then an accurate depiction of the game and what isn't?!" take a careful look at the board. or better still watch "The Blue Spirit" (season 1 episode 13) in slow motion.
You will notice several errors:
The board is not drawn correctly.
The "ports" are not the right shape.
The players are sitting in the wrong place.
The perspective of the lines on the board is wrong.
The diagonal lines on the board bisect the edges of the squares in some shots, including some of the ones you reference above.
Given that the board is wrong, there is no reason to think that the placement of the tiles on the board would be correct either.

Harlan Nowick said

at 8:49 pm on Aug 22, 2010

I agree with kutai, and i have played this game. it seems that in my games myself and the opponent can predict who the winner will be be well before the last harmony is made and because that's true, two competitive players would never loose. they would just force a no win situation (like the last image) resulting in a cat's game

Eun_Mi_89 said

at 2:54 am on Aug 23, 2010

Hm, I still don't understand what you mean. The last image of this page is not a no win situation, there are still movements you can make... so far I haven't been in a situation where it was clear who wins long before the game is over. Could you maybe sketch the exact game?

Harlan Nowick said

at 12:27 pm on Aug 23, 2010

the rose tile as shown is only capable of forming one harmony and it can't move. no matter where you move that lotus tile you can't end the game. hence it is a no win solution

Osuji said

at 12:31 am on Aug 23, 2010

I think it is also important when interpreting Pai Sho images to understand the context and subtext behind the game.

The width of the Pai Sho board is the same as a Go board (19x19 intersections). Go is played on intersections. The tiles are circular, as in Xiang Xi (Chinese Chess). Xiang Xi is played on intersections. The series is based on Asian cultures, so Asian board games are a central influence. This makes a strong case for play remaining on intersections and not squares. Add the concept of Wabi Sabi (a kind of irregular beauty). In Go the squares are rectangular, and the stones are slightly larger so they won't fit into perfect straight lines. It only makes sense then that Pai Sho tiles might not always be placed perfectly on the intersections but could be slightly askew, because of the Asian cultural subtext.

Western authors created Pai Sho in an Asian based culture. A common western error would be thinking in terms of western chess/checkers where the pieces are placed in squares. The animators are thinking in a western context because that is who they are. That the examples of tiles in squares come from the earlier episodes suggests the depiction of Pai Sho evolved to reflect a better understanding (by the animation team) of its roots. I can't say for certain this is the case, but it seems more likely than taking a long time playtesting a fictional game with several variations for only 3 episodes.

So given the obvious roots of Pai Sho and the cultural background of the animators, it seems obvious that tiles on squares are animation errors because intersections are the logical "Asian" choice. Of course you could place them on squares instead (some Asian games do, but they have little in common with Pai Sho). The series doesn't give us any specific rules to forbid it. And there is certainly every reason to test the concept. But think about it this way: how many western chess/checker variants place the pieces on the intersections?

Yi Chen said

at 1:34 am on Aug 23, 2010

Use of the squares are seen in Asian board games, Shogi and Chaturanga being examples. However as far as I know use of both intersection and squares aren't both seen in any game.

Eun_Mi_89 said

at 3:03 am on Aug 23, 2010

Hm, firstly, the series was animated by DR Movie, a Korean animation studio. And then, according to your reasoning, does that mean that the depictions of the game in "The Storm" and "The Blue Spirit" are animation flaws because they show tiles placed also on squares, and only the scene in "The Desert" shows the real thing (so far that's the only episode I know where they only play on intersections), even though they apparently don't even play? More importantly, do you stick to the hypothesis of only one Pai Sho variant played in the show?
May I suggest that we create a page where we collect all the information that we have so we can argue on common ground...

Osuji said

at 7:19 am on Aug 23, 2010

I am aware of both Chaturanga and Shogi as I note above some Asian games do use squares. I have played and have copies of both. The former has a distinct East Indian influence and the later is Japanese. In the series most of the overtones seem Chinese. So sticking with Go and Xiang Xi makes more sense. I'm also aware that they did go to Korea for the animation. I would hypothesize it was a Japanese influence that introduced the use of squares when the animation is Korean but that the authors would not have noticed being from the west. I suggest that the games shown in the earlier examples are not yet fully refined, and therefore only those elements that carry forward are likely to be cannon.

I agree there should be a page where we can state what we know for certain about the game and what we know about the subtext behind it. We can't say any idea is invalid unless we can say it is "out of harmony" with what we already know to be correct.

Osuji said

at 8:00 am on Aug 23, 2010

I have created a page called Source Materials where we can collect all resources related to the developement of Pai Sho.

Osuji said

at 8:00 am on Aug 23, 2010

I have created a page called Source Materials where we can collect all resources related to the developement of Pai Sho.

Osuji said

at 12:32 am on Aug 23, 2010

Finally I have a practical objection to allowing play on both squares and intersections in the same game (apart from the fact you are effectively doubling the playing area while more than halving the number of tiles). The rules for this variant allow for the placement of a tile on either a free intersection or a free square. If I place a tile on an intersection are all the adjacent squares free? If I place a tile on a square are all the adjacent intersections free? If not then the rules need to say so. If the adjacent intersections or squares remain free then the tiles need to be smaller or the squares need to be bigger. Right now the tiles are too large to have a tile on an intersection and a tile next to it on a square.

Yi Chen said

at 1:49 am on Aug 23, 2010

Perhaps the use of intersections and squares should be used to signify the type of game played squares being used for chess type games and intersections used for games that use harmonies.

Osuji said

at 7:21 am on Aug 23, 2010

Asian chess variants use both intersections and squares. So we can't say that only chess variants use squares.

Rodrigo said

at 6:33 pm on Dec 25, 2012

Hello, do not know much how to play Pai Sho. could someone make a video? showing how to play

Cyril said

at 3:15 pm on Dec 26, 2012

That would be difficult. Not only does it require much effort to make a tutorial, there is also the problem that many different rule versions exist, which are all more or less developed. If you want a video for the rules on this particular page, I would advise you to contact the original creator of this version, who appears to be some "Eun Mi". I hope you are successful!

Rodrigo said

at 7:25 pm on Jan 5, 2013

Thank you. another question. harmonies, are armed with a square in between?

Rodrigo said

at 7:28 pm on Jan 5, 2013

i read many times and I still do not understand how to create harmonies?

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